Last week (13th June 2009), Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams spoke at a party conference in New York, USA on the subject of achieving Irish unity.
At the one day `Unite Ireland Forum' conference, Mr Adams spoke to an audience of 800 people in Manhattan about his views on how a united Ireland is possible. Opening the conference, Adams said:
«The purpose of today's Forum is to have a public conversation on the theme of `Irish Unity – Our destination: How do we get there?»
However, in his speech Mr Adams stressed the need «to engage in a way that makes unionists happy with a New Ireland» and spoke about the possibility of a 40 year timescale. This may have come as a disappointment to many, especially those who remember Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness comments in 2003 of a united Ireland by 2016 and Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy claim in December 2008 that a referendum on a united Ireland could be held even before 2016.
However Adams doesn't seem to have much choice. To put his comments in context, it is useful to remember perhaps that under the Good Friday Agreement, the border can be only be removed by simultaneous referenda in both the north and south. A positive vote in the north must therefore be equalled by a positive vote in the south or the status quo remains.
With the Irish Republic's constituional repeal of its claim to the north of Ireland and in the current economic climate, it seems unlikely that the people of the Republic will look favourably on a campaign for a united Ireland at the moment. As Dr Martin Mansergh, the Fianna Fail Minister of State, said at a Dublin conference last week, Irish unity is «a lot less compelling today than...two or three years ago... The Republic is engaged in a major struggle to maintain, within the EU and indeed the euro zone, its economic viability and sovereignty. It is hardly the moment to press claims to the North which we have renounced.»
Dr Brendan O'Leary, who was involved in the peace process in the north and who also spoke at the New York conference, confirmed Mansergh's earlier comments by saying that an expected 20 per cent fall in living standards in a united Ireland raised «legitimate fears» among the population. Perhaps this is why Sinn Fein has decided to relaunch the constitutional debate in the USA, where they can still draw on the support of Irish Americans and at the same time encourage them to dig deep into their pockets.
As Adams said at the press conference that opened the Forum:
«The question today is not so much how do we get there; the question is how does Irish America and the USA help the people of Ireland get there. How can you be active and effective?»
Mine may be a cynical take on the situation, but it does currently look like a referendum on Irish unity before 2016 is unlikely. However a lot can happen in a very short time in politics!
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(Article compiled for Celtic News by Rhisiart Tal-e-bot)
J B Moffatt Director of Information Celtic League
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